Friday, 20 October 2017

LEJoG 2017 - the first 22 days


The first 22 days, uncut, from Facebook posts as they were published...

Day one done! 
More adventure than expected for "the easy introduction" day. Three detours, two electric fences, a million bunnies, a slow worm, lots of furry caterpillars, two barbed wire fences, five locked gates on footpaths/byways, one herd of over-affectionate cows, five miles of stunning South West Coast path, a peregrine falcon less than 2m from my head, one unavoidable quagmire of mud and cowshit, one quick coffee on the hoof, 20m of chest height brambles and gorse that took half an hour to get through, a little sunburn and a pub with no food at the end.

Day two done.
Far less epic, thankfully! 29 miles and only a few detours; 8 foot bushes blocking a footpath nobody has used for years, one stupid mis-route by me, and one where there was no way to get to a cycle way that was 20 feet higher than the junction looked like.

With the less exciting situations came less epic scenery but still very pretty. Tons of wild flowers. A little more road than I would have liked, but I'm now 5% through the distance so that's pretty good.

Tomorrow is a little shorter and ends in a B&B again but no local food so I need to eat before I get there somehow.

Day three!
The first 5 miles were great - easy navigation, quick progress and I had one job to do today... keep my feet dry. Yesterday they were soaked for a few hours towards the end for a second day in a row and got a bit macerated. What I didn't notice this morning was that I had a damaged bit between my big toe and the next one on my left foot. By just past mile 5 I decided to stop at a holiday park Costa for a coffee and a look at my foot. Half an hour later I'd cleaned off the grit, powdered with Zeasorb and put some tape on the area to protect it. All I had to do was keep my feet dry and they'd have a chance to recover some more.
Cue mile six and "the farmer who plants right to the edge of the field", a need to take a route along the edge of said field and a butt load of heavy dew on knee high crop. Soaked feet in seconds and I had a meltdown. For the next 10 miles my feet got repeatedly re-saturated by my route traversing pretty much every hay meadow in the district.
There are still very many farmers who apparently hate walkers as they string wire and/or electric fences across footpaths and secure gates with barbed wire. I have to say that until I got to the B&B at the end of today I haven't felt very welcome here today.
And don't even get me started on the weird pub I got food in that had Nazi memorabilia on the wall...
There were some very pretty bits too though, and more British Bulldog cows.

Day four
...and I chose to stay on roads all day in order to pretty much guarantee dry feet. It did that and I got to see some pretty scenery, lots of wildlife and some crosses and standing stones.
The afternoon heated up and the sun beat down. Yet again I was glad of my white cycling bolero to stop my arms and shoulders from bursting into flames.
A fortuitous meeting in the pub at the end got me booked into a palace of a B&B and I was really glad to finally get to meet up with a couple of friends I'd not seen in ages/were meeting in real life for the first time. Hopefully I'll get to spend more than a brief got with them again soonish!
I've cleared my first county! Hello Devon!

Day five
...and oh boy was it a doozey! There moors are simply stunning and the Tarka trail just perfect in my opinion. Miles of rushing river in the woods, my absolute favourite. This is the first day over 30 miles and it was always going to be a long one, but my foot is still not right and it got really sore about 20 miles in (having been just niggly until then).
I stopped at a station café for "meal" as there was going to be nothing else available all day, and met Percy the station cat who clearly didn't give a damn about anything other than snoozing on a chair (I wish!).
I'm currently curled up in a church porch, next to a farm which is doing its best to get all the baled up hay in tonight before dew in the morning so it's pretty noisy and some of the noises keep making me jumpy. Hoping I can sleep and get off early tomorrow for another 33 mile day with even more elevation gain!

So day six was as almost the end of it. 
My feet were in constant pain and that, on top of the constant re-routing, ducking under electric fences/over barbed wire, running away from homicidal cows, shedding by brambles and nettles, saturated feet within the first three miles again, beating down sun etc., took me beyond my limit.
I had a six hour meltdown. But made it to the planned end point for the day.
My left foot really needed attention and I'd just had enough. So after a chat with Norm, agreed to take a rest day rather than call myself a failure and give in right away.
So I'm spending today with my feet up, shoes off, drinking tea and booking places to stay for the next few days to take the pressure off needing to do that each day - after the trouble I've had for the last 3 days I just don't want that to be an additional thing to worry about while I'm trying to just keep moving forward.
I'll see where I am in another six days and take it from there.

Day seven
...and I've downgraded the status of my left foot from red to amber. It's still not great but it's been dry all day. That on top of a day of being up yesterday seems to have done a great job of stopping it from getting really disgusting.
Today has been quite kind to me. No soaking of my feet at all, despite a good amount of off road, and the sun has been mostly behind clouds. The trails were in good shape for the first 19 or so miles too.
I targeted a National Trust café for a mid point stop and it came a little late and had not the greatest selection of food (cake, pasties, sandwiches, soup and ice cream) but I stopped for an hour and a quarter there to have soup, a sandwich, a pot of tea and a bottle of fizzy water. The break really revived me as I wasn't feeling great to that point despite the good conditions. My mood was very low and I was yet again questioning everything. Lots of things already hurt only 3 hours into a 10 hour day on my feet.
The rest of the route was less great after that stop, more cranky farmers with low enthusiasm for footpaths but at least no electric fences or barbed wire. That said, my legs got a good scourging with nettles, repeatedly.
Final stop for the day was a lucky B&B that I bagged earlier in the day on the off chance that had room. I just beat the rain in to the farm house and was mobbed by the very affectionate cat, fed tea and cake and then got showered and dry.

Day eight!
And it was a day of humidity, bogs, river crossings, lakes, rain and flies.
A couple of reroutes needed and for the first time a farmer actually opened an electric fence to let me through as he saw I was headed onto the footpath! I got chased again a bit by summer cows and just about out ran them before they got bored. My feet did get soaked within the first hour but they did fine after recovering well there last couple of days. They were also not sore until the last hour rather than from the three hour mark onwards. An improvement!
No idea how far I actually went today - a mess up in my route planning meant I glued two days together so had no countdown to the end of today and given that my Garmin did that thing where it thinks I'm moving about while indoors, it added over a mile while I was eating brunch and drinking pints of tea. Oh well!
Another day done and I'm now 22% through overall AND I'll hit a new county tomorrow too.

Day nine
...and a day of crossings; the Clifton suspension bridge, the M5, the M4 and The Severn bridge. It started with eight miles of almost non stop running at the start! They then got soaked in some long grass and spent the rest of the day slowly drying out. Today saw zero: electric fences, barbed wire, locked/chained gates, lakes of cow/horse shit, pools of piss, brambles, hawthorn, thistles and carnivorous cows. There was one, single nettle sting.
A huge milestone came in getting out of the South West and into Wales (and straight back out again). 25% of the total distance done!
The trails were stunning today; it was glorious to be on well maintained, well loved trails and Offa's Dyke is one to go back to for sure. The day ended in a castle. With a banquet. Including soup. And no cutlery. No. Really!


Day ten
...and though I'm in civilisation and have plenty of data capability I'm not live video posting. I'm too down.
Today was chalk to yesterday's cheese. Though I got up to the stunning view point at Symonds Yat, I could l couldn't stay and enjoy it. Every day is about just getting to the next point without face-planting, getting too wet, stung, scraped or eaten by cows.
On paper, today was the hardest day of the whole route; 32 miles and 1300m of ascent. It also involved a large circuit into Ross-on-Wye, which seemed unnecessary to me so I re-routed to cut off a good chunk after Symonds Yat which also dropped the climbing appreciably. However, it meant a lot of road. And road where the drivers are less than kindly and either refuse to make room at all, or give you an extra 50cm or so without slowing down at all (hello national speed limit minor roads!).
After a stop for some really really good salmon and tea for lunch, I finally managed to let some of the frustration out and did some top notch bawling almost all the way to the end. A little pause in the snot-fest to get through the streets to a park near where I'm staying and I found a bench to sit on and rest my feet a while while I bawled some more.
I finally hauled ass to my accommodation for the night and on discovering there was a bath, I sat in it, in my kit to give it its first proper rinse out in ten days.
I'm sore. My legs are made out of porridge and my feet really ache. I'm not sure I can be bothered to go and get any food; I've had a ham and tomato sandwich and that fabulous salmon at lunch time...

Day eleven!
Oh boy! So this was supposed to be my second longest mileage day of the whole trip. Elevation not too bad overall.
I started out, of course, through a wet field of hip-height grass within the first half hour *sigh* After a birthday call to the husband which made me quite teary, I got going for the the day feeling like it'd be OK given the lack of height I'd need to climb and the large percentage of the route off road.
I still managed to get very sore feet.
Still, I planned a lunch stop that was in theory bang on my route and I didn't need to detour into Leominster to eat. I found it on Google maps and the pictures got me quite excited. As I approached, I was a bit worried it might not be open but when I headed to the counter I was greeted by the wonderful Dom, of Doms Bike Stop, who proceeded to be wonderfully welcoming and made me some heavenly tea as I figured out what I needed to eat.
To be honest, this was the best lunch stop I've had since I started. Dom's is a haven of good, locally sourced, tasty food with some quirky decor in 12 acres of land with space for camping and yoga retreats! Not what you'd expect for a biker café but it's brilliant!
Well fueled and after a great chat with Dom and his little boy, I headed back out for the second half of the day, where all the elevation was.
I had a mile along the A49 first though, which was less than fun. Then up into some woods and through stupidly pretty villages before deciding to bail a couple of miles early to take advantage of a B&B opportunity with a clean dry bed and a shower rather than kipping in a random field or church porch for the night.
My feet are so so sore. I just needed to be comfortable and clean and able to be nice to my feet while the opportunity was there.
Another county done and 30% through. Need to replan tomorrow given I've got an extra couple of miles to deal with from today. And I get to see Norm tomorrow too.

Day twelve
...and having stopped short yesterday I had to get creative to make the end point today. From where I was supposed to stop yesterday it was 32 miles and 1300m ascent, plus an extra 2 miles. The thought of that was not a happy one at all.
So I looked at the map until I fell asleep and picked out a path that was more direct, avoided much climbing, and the A49 (which is a death wish path; I wouldn't cycle on it either).
I did get to go through some ridiculously pretty villages and valleys, but also across fields that had no sign of the footpath at all, though pretty useable and marked gates/stiles at either side. My feet got soaked again; no surprise there. My legs got whipped, scratched, stung, and coated in wet, itchy seeds. Hey ho.
A planned brunch stop in Church Stretton made me choke up a little. The café was lovely, the menu made up of everything I might have liked right then and I felt quite overwhelmed. Two pots of tea and some soup and a slice of game pie and I was stuffed. Having made really good time, I luxuriated in a 90 min stop before pressing on.
More silly-pretty villages and then a quite unpleasant yomp through a very difficult farm section and I stumped into the final stretch. With a twingey knee, though this bit was runnable I didn't. No hurry, well ahead of planned scheduling and still very early I was happy to stroll to the finish.
My shoes reek. I'm not too bad, but stingy and itchy legs and sore feet.
Taking a strategic rest day tomorrow at the end of the long run of long days. I have some accommodation to plan for the upcoming week or so and wouldn't say no to a bit of recovery and time to get the admin done. Including figuring out the key point of replacing my shoes, which are pretty battered already at 355 miles or so, mainly from being permanently wet and gouged by thorns etc.

Day fourteen
...and it was quite a damp one. I woke up at about 04:30 as the sky was getting bright and put on radio 4 while I dozed until 05:15, then started to pack up my stuff.
My tent was full of condensation on the inside because I forgot to un-velcro the vents at the ends, so I did my best to shake off as much as possible before packing it away. This was after putting my stove on to make a coffee and pack up all the insides of the tent while that cooled down. It turns out a spider had crawled into the pot overnight, that I'd prepped with water and just turned on the gas. So when I came to tip in the coffee granules, there was a thick little web. No time to boil another so I just swiped out the web as best I could and drank the coffee anyway.
The rain started pretty much straight away. Storms were forecast and I was pretty apprehensive of a day out in that. But the drizzle let up almost straight away and as I made up the two miles from yesterday, the going was good.
I'd had a good tip on decent trails in the locale and it lined up with the direction I needed to be going in and made things pretty efficient. The Sandstone Trail is really really good. Well and clearly marked and very well maintained. This made for swift going - almost 4mph! (Don't laugh, I can only dream of that speed on this route with my heavy pack on!).
There was really only one problem solving section, but it was pretty advanced. A footpath that not only wasn't used recently but I'm pretty sure it was never that great. It was, in theory, along the side of a river, but was actually in a bog that was thick with various trees and bushes and waist height rushes, brambles, nettles and other greenery. I gave up after about 1/4 mile of being permanently worried about disappearing into the bog. I ended up climbing up a mud bank, hauling myself up using tree roots and some random disused farm equipment, over a barbed wire fence and into a meadow of waist height grass, heavy with rain.
There was some fairly pretty woods after that, then a road of death where I pretty quickly decided that I'd rather be angry and alive than right about the highway code and squished. Cue lots of jumping into the hedge.
Being a couple of hours ahead of schedule, I headed to what looked like a nice pub about 15 mins from where I'm staying. And a very nice pub it is indeed!
Tomorrow will be a bit of a slog as I'm a bit off route with tonight's accommodation as well as it being impossible to optimise or use roads as they're all pretty major into Bolton.
Head down and get on with it after a good night's sleep I guess.

Day fifteen.
I'm quite tired so this will be short. I woke at 05:30 to head out between 06:00 and 06:30 and was pretty much really not up for it today. The weather meant I wanted to avoid much trail as I was worried about flooding, so I did some rerouting to involve more road. I also had a couple of miles to catch up from yesterday.
Diversion within the first couple of miles and I didn't even bat an eyelid, just got on with it.
Not the prettiest section ever; there's a lot of urban sprawl between Liverpool and Manchester. A few nice bits though. I crossed the M6, M56, M62 and M61 today. Pretty motorway-tastic!
The wind and rain battered me for most of the day and it was over 22 miles before I could take a break. My hands suffered most due to being wet and wind beaten for hours and they were so cold I couldn't operate my phone or push buttons on my watch.
Then something weird happened. I was doing some map checking as I came around a corner and past a stopped white van; head down and focused. Two blokes started yelling from the van as I drew level with it "come on! Keep going! Keep going! Keep going!". I thought the usual "thanks random people who are being leary at me" and then a bicycle and runner came past me. And I saw the runner had not only some white headphones in, but a T-shirt on with a map of the UK on the back with a line from bottom to top! I called out "oh God! Wow! I'm doing that too!" and tried to keep up for a bit. The parked up van driver off ahead and it was the support van! "How long have you been going for?" I shouted after them, but with my hood up and the blasting wind I couldn't hear the reply. They carried on into the distance after the cyclist managed to fall off a bit in front of me, apologise and then carry on, saying "good luck!" to me.
I crossed over the Warburton toll bridge over the Manchester ship canal, which is pretty narrow and has no pavements and on the other side a little further on was the support van pulled over with its hazard lights on and the bike stopped in front. The runner was to the side of the van and I thought he was stopping for food from the van - really not a great place to do that given the road situation. I thought I'd grab a photo of the van as I drew level with it so I could look him up later. But as I got about 10m from the back, the runner got into the van, and the cyclist and van headed off!
No idea what happened there, but it seemed rather odd. Weird place to stop. And it'd be quite disruptive to drop someone back off there again later. Anyway. Maybe he was done for the day (11:30am?) or injured, or going to get food, or needed a poo (no easy opportunities on that road, I have to say). I guess I'll never know.
For lunch, I found a gorgeous pub with slightly jobsworth staff and great food. Odd mix, but there you go. After procrastinating for well over an hour over the brilliant beef and Stilton pie with gravy (I was freezing and needed heating up), I had to get on with it.
More miles of trudging along roads - at least with pavements around here - and more wind and rain and I eventually finished for the day. Tired, wet and sore feet and really in need of a hot shower and tea. Thankfully I have now had both.


Day sixteen
...and the apprehension I had about getting up into the moors in the high winds was blown away by the beauty up there. It was a blustery climb up to Winter Hill to the TV transmitter, phone masts and weather station, but the views were incredible.
I bumped into a running couple where they'd parked up at the bottom of one of the hills and he'd watched me come down from the top. We had a bit of a chat and his wife got out of the car to join us. They were a little skeptical at first but very supportive and keen to hear about me in the news. That's not gonna happen I'm afraid! The run on to the next hill was great; actually runnable and glorious views.
My food stop at The Millstone at Mellor was all too brief. The place was really nice, relaxing and the food was very good - mushroom soup and a cheese sandwich of the best flavours and textures. I wished I could stay but I had to move on. 18.5 miles done on honest trails with stunning scenery done and I thought I had another 16 to go.
The next 5-6 miles were horrible. Disused footpaths, badly maintained farms/farmland and a total disregard for other people. I spent a couple of hours crying in anger and frustration to the point I felt sick. There was literally nothing I could do to change the situation - no rerouting possible as there just wasn't an alternative without getting back a few miles and onto major roads for even more miles adding hours and danger to my day. I just had to get on with it.
Finally I ended up back in good footpaths with good gates etc and I figured out I had less far too go than I thought. Almost 12 hours including 40ish mins at the food stop and that was a long day.
It started and ended with beautiful and honest trails on moors, but there was a truly horrible bit to get through in between. I'm exhausted. But I've had a bath (unexpected luxury!) And a really good steak and I'm feeling a bit better, though still whacked out.
Tomorrow will get an extra couple of miles tacked on from today's slightly early finish so it will be another long day to get through and with no rerouting possibility again if things get iffy.
I'm just so tired!

Day seventeen.
Wow! The Forest of Bowland is gorgeous. But also very very boggy. In between drooling over the scenery in the rain, I was mostly wading ankle deep in marshy grass and bog for very many hours. And then I hit the fells and the glory that is The Hornby Road which is several miles of gravel trail and really very runnable. It rained from the moment I got up until I stopped for food. I'd been so long wading in bog that I couldn't be bothered with finding shallow waters through fords any more and just waded through.
Out I popped into a village where I intended to divert a little off the route to a pub for brunch but as I hit the village I found a farm café which was perfect.
A large vat of powerful tea and a cheese toastie and scone later I was ready for the rest of the day. At this point my phone battery case died through being saturated for hours. Not great as I was using my phone a lot for navigation up on the fells and there was some fine detail navigation I needed it for later on too. Thankfully the rain stopped and I tied the case onto my rucksack straps to air out for a few hours and that did the trick.
Running across mostly fells and forest today meant zero crap with lack of footpath accessibility, though I did get chased by sheep! No nettles. No barbed wire. No electric fences. Zero stress! The obstacles of nature are just there and that's OK. It's the fake natural obstacles of thorns, nettles and thistles where the footpath should be, plus careless or bitter land owners that frustrate and anger me. None of that today. Only one missing footbridge over a raging torrent which wasn't the end of the world as there was a path on the other side which got me there anyway.
I also managed to dip into North Yorkshire today, which just blows my mind completely. That's really in The North.
An honest and beautiful day today. If a little wet. Theme of the day... water.

Day eighteen
...is already fading a bit from my memory with today's day of rest, but...
The morning was very much a businesslike case of making progress as efficiently as possible. Having finished two miles out again yesterday, had I followed my original planned route it would have been 36.5 miles and 1400m of ascent. And despite really enjoying the moors and fells, I really needed to have a less stressful day. Also my phone battery case had totally died overnight due to being soaked all day yesterday and I needed to have very simple navigation. So I took a track road which was unused by vehicles; I think I saw 2 cars in about 20 miles and 6 hours on the move.
I stopped at a brilliant little cafe for brunch and had the biggest pot of tea known to mankind as well as a pile of food and some time off my feet. My shoes are definitely tired, more of being ripped by spiky things and pounding with the combined weight of me plus my pack for over 500 miles. They're ripped inside and out and ready to be replaced. The good thing is I had ordered new ones for delivery to this weekend's stop.
The afternoon brightened up, the sun came out and as I crested Orton Scar, I finally took off my long sleeved top for the first time in the days. And the view opened up in front of me... another one of those that a photo does no justice to and words fail me.
Then the military aircraft kicked in and I got the most amazing display from jets and helicopters; fat, heavy helicopters that made me think there was a steam train over the hill. I just managed to capture a video of one, but missed the time one appeared overhead so low I could almost tickle its belly!
With the sun warming me and the brilliant air display, simple navigation and almost complete lack of aches and pains, the afternoon pretty much flew by and the day was over pretty early despite the distance.
Today I've been planning ahead, booking lots of places to stay and had a little rejig of the final few days to make things simpler and so that Norm can be with me on my last day.
It's weird. I'm poverty half way through but it really feels like the end is in sight, having taken a closer look at the next 20 days. Having split one longer day it's added a day but I'll take no more rest days now and I'll have three short days instead of only the last one.
535 miles down, 500 to go!

Day nineteen
...and the last day wholly in England. A short day at only 27.5 miles or so and very little elevation at only 700m-ish. Lots of very pretty scenery and an early brunch stop caught me by surprise at around 10:30 having started pretty late at just after 7am!
I stopped in a gorgeous bakery cafe which did perfect breakfast rolls and I had bacon, egg and black pudding in a soft roll with a pot of tea for two, with one cup. Bliss! It almost made up for being zapped by a stupid electric fence strung across the footpath earlier in the day that made me yell obscenities at the farmhouse nearby.
The afternoon was still going to be pretty short and easy so I lingered a while over brunch and had a cappuccino after I'd finished the other bits, while my morning photos uploaded. Having the next lots of days already booked and the days mileage being mainly shorter than they have been previously really takes the mental stress down a notch and I was pretty carefree. I picked up a cyclist shortly after lunch who came up behind me and asked where I was headed; "up to the top" I said. He said "oh, Watch Fell?" and I said "John o'Groats" as he headed out of earshot. 5 seconds later, he turned around and headed back for a chat as I jogged along beside him. Turns out he'd cycled it a few years ago in 7 days, he said. And he was surprised but also very understanding of me doing it alone (and with pretty decent average daily mileage!). After a few minutes chat he headed off into the distance, leaving me to it.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful until I was getting out of the way of a large vehicle on one of the little roads I ended up on and something odd happened to my ankle. About 8.5 miles from my end point, it was fine at first but got increasingly painful to the point where I couldn't work out whether being on road and on level surface was better than off road and uneven but softer surface. It was pretty bad for a while and brought tears to my eyes. It then eased off a bit until I had to cross a field of deep grass and then it was almost excruciating before easing off again.
Having death marched the last 8.5 miles rather than running, I finally got to my accommodation for the night. Where they had great fun with their booking system being pretty much broken and they had no idea about my booking. But. I am now in the quiet room in the back rather than above the bar so I'll get a good night's sleep at least.
Having put my foot up for a while, my ankle is even more painful now so I can only hope that a night and lots of sleep will fix it up for the morning.

Day twenty.
My ankle felt not too bad as I made tea in the morning but when I got outside and started to stride off down the road, I got sharp, hot stabs of pain. I hobbled back to the inn to get wi-fi to try to talk to Norm to get some perspective, but the wi-fi was totally dead. I tried to call but the mobile signal was too weak.
I then thought what I'd do is get to my brunch stop and see what happens.
I'd planned ahead for being on road for the majority of the first post of the day and that helped. Staying on an even surface and mostly going uphill meant that the pain was manageable and I made reasonable progress. As the day wore on, I decided to check when the lunch stop opened for lunch. Oh dear. 4pm. No use! A quick reroute to a different one on a slightly longer route overall and I tried to call them to ask when they opened but the mobile signal was again too weak. I managed to find their website, which said they opened at 11:30 every day. Brilliant!
As I was making determined progress I was sure I'd get to the place before 11, but then some downhill came up and I couldn't do more than shuffle in excruciating pain as my ankle was very unhappy with it. I got to the pub just around 11:15 to find the sign outside saying "open every day from 4pm".
Shit.
I had planned to get food and some tea and strap up my ankle to see if that helped, but I ended up just having to sit on the grass verge of the road and strap up my ankle with no food or tea.
The next section I had a short bit of off road to help cut a chunk of distance out. Oh boy was that a bad idea. I had to take the tiniest steps and bawled my eyes out with the pain each time my foot landed off horizontal and flat. 1/2 mile took 20 minutes to cover.
Back on road again I re-routed to the end to be completely on road and sucked up the first stabs as I had to negotiate a 1/4 mile switchback down at 15% to the location of the Scottish border.
I was glad that even on a tiny road there was a sign indicating that I'd left England.
3.5 miles more and I got to my accommodation for the night and asked for help getting a doctor. Happy to wait for a 6pm emergency appointment, I sat in the lounge with an ice pack and a packet of pork scratchings for my breakfast (15:30...).
The hotel owner ran me to the surgery where I had to register as a temporary resident so they could get me on the system.
And the verdict is a sprain and needing a couple of days off. Lots of painkillers and a walking stick from the doc and I now need to cancel and rebook a lot of B&Bs.

Day twenty-one.
And after a two day break to try to kick start recovery with my sprained ankle, I was well into "one day at a time" territory.
I started out in the rain a few minutes before 6 and things felt pretty OK. I still couldn't flex my ankle without quite some pain, but there was more range of motion than the days before. (I'd kept it elevated, compressed and did flexing exercises every hour to try to get things moving better - that hurts quite a lot, but is pretty effective.) There wasn't a lot of scenery to be looked at, given the rain and being pretty much inside a cloud for a good while, and I'd had the luxury of being able to route on road until at least my brunch stop. So I made pretty good progress for a few hours. I did get a couple of folks pause to check I was OK and offer me a lift, which was lovely but obviously I had to decline.
Not long after the four hour mark, things suddenly got excruciatingly painful and I was reduced to a hobble, even with my walking stick. With a six and a half hour time estimate to my food stop, I had something of a swearing session. I was convinced that I'd have to drop at Hawick (pronounced "hoik", it turns out) and I bawled my eyes out yet again with the frustration and impending sense of loss. The tears come when I think I might have to stop before I'm finished. Yes, things hurt but that's almost never where the tears come from. I cry when I'm furious or frustrated.
I promised myself I'd have some tea and some food and see how things looked after that. And I stumped off down the road some more.
My chosen brunch café was closed. Permanently. But given that Hawick is a reasonable size, I had options and found a weird little place called "Damascus Drum" where I got a beef-filled bagel and a pot of tea. My ankle had been behaving a bit better in the final mile or so into Hawick and after eating, I got a takeout coffee and headed out to try it out.
It behaved! But I was about to have to go off road which really worried me. Thankfully the trail was pretty entry-level and with the brace on and my stick, I managed to make reasonable progress. They know how to do stiles in this country too!
The rain lifted a few times and I did get to see some of the pretty before the final climb to my accommodation for the night... where the host gave me the biggest bedroom with the best view and a huge bathroom, as well as not charging me for dinner as a donation to PHCuk. 36 miles and 1075m elevation. Done.
My ankle really needed me to have been continuing to do the flexing exercises; it's seized up quite a lot, but I'm doing my best to squeeze a few in without irritating it too much before sleep time.
Another 5am wake up tomorrow as it's another longer day and almost all of it off road, so slow going.
Yeah, not much running going on right now, but I'd rather keep making progress than not. I'm not giving up unless things get a lot worse.

Day twenty-two.
Up at 5 this morning and off up the Cross Borders Drove Road. Up being the operative word. Lots of height gained and some glorious views (yes, again). In and out of trees and heather (a bit scratchy on the ankles). Then, after over 6 miles of mostly up, came the down.
And the pain.
And the grinding to an impossibly slow hobble as I used my walking stick as my right leg and howled in pain for two very long miles.
And that was that.
This was clearly bad and wrong. So I headed to a nearby village just off route and by chance came across a local health centre well pointed me to the Borders General hospital A&E department and called me a taxi to get me there.
Half an hour later and I hobbled into the waiting area. I was lucky that it was empty and quiet and got seen by a triage nurse pretty quickly who sent me off to x-ray in a wheelchair. I couldn't even put my foot down on the ground at this stage as that made me almost dizzy with pain. I ate half of my packed bacon sandwich breakfast as I was exhausted and ravenous through emotional energy expenditure. Whatever the result of the x-ray, there was no way I could keep covering these distances for another 15 and a half days with my ankle like this.
Two hours after coming through the door and I was packed off with a diagnosis of tendinitis, a pair of crutches, instructions to take anti-inflammatories for at least a week and a letter to my GP.
It's pretty clear that it's not going to even start getting better unless I give it a chance. And even drugged to the eyeballs with painkillers I can't cope with downhills at all, which is pretty unavoidable on this sort of route.
I'm resting up in Scotland for the weekend, popping in to Dunfermline parkrun to cheer tomorrow. Then I'll head home and think about what to do about this unfinished business. I've done 630 miles, there's 405 to go. I'd really like to finish the job, but doing it across two separate trips... does that "count"? Have I still run Lands End to John o'Groats?

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Race Report: Suunto RunWimbledon Marathon

What a lovely race! Set up on a grassy clearing on Wimbledon Common, the start/finish/registration area was like a mini festival! With a gorgeous gazebo containing a live music act, a couple of sponsor stands (one by Suunto, the headline sponsor, who were lending out running watches to try out for the race), a beach-style area with deck with deck chairs and bean bags, the registration and bag tents, as well as a coffee/snacks wagon (which also had a fridge full of beers for afterwards :) )


The race start time threw me a bit. 2pm is a tricky start time. What to do about eating for the day? Could happily run on nothing, but I didn't fancy not eating all day until well after 6pm so I had some eggs and avocado earlier in the day and hoped my stomach wouldn't mind that.


I bumped into a bunch of folks I knew before the start (@hairierhalf and @ultraboyruns) which was nice. And I headed out with little expectation other than a nice long training run with some trees, mud and the odd hillock. 4 laps of around 6.5 miles (or 10K for those who work in km) has the potential to be boring, but with this route and terrain, it wasn't that bad really.


I spent a lot of the first 2 laps sat behind a lady with a Centurion 50 Grand Slam t-shirt from 2016. Boy, could she motor and I had to be careful not to try to do anything stupid. I had nothing to prove and I'm not exactly trained for speed right now.


The laps are almost always my downfall. With the Clapham and Wimbledon 15K races in the past, I lost the incentive to finish the distance and more often than not bailed early to take a 5 or 10k finish and still get a medal because of the 3 race distance options. This time, with 4 laps of a marathon, 3 laps in and 3.5 hours with twilight looming I just gave up and let the niggles and soreness in various bits of me be the excuse to stop. I just didn't get on with the laps plus I felt crap, my legs and engine felt rubbish after 2 laps. I felt a bit sick, fat, lumpy, with dead legs and then my right foot got really sore. So I pulled up at the end of 3rd lap for a 20 mile run. That'd do for the day.


I was given a medal anyway, seeing as I'd gone further than the half marathon and the medal was the same for 10k, half marathon and marathon.


If I'd been in a bit more of a positive frame of mind I might have stuck it out for all 4 laps, but in the end I just wanted to go home and chill out.

The race itself was well organised, an interesting and varied route and a sensible number of water stations that were cleverly placed to service multiple distances through the route due to the layout of the route.

I'd recommend it as an introduction to trail marathons and while it's still small and low-key, it's very well supported with a lovely, mini-festival atmosphere. Maybe one for running with a friend next time! Keep an eye out for it next year!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Race Report: Seattle Craft Classic (half marathon)

Mr TOTKat and I discovered a while ago that it's really great fun to enter a local race when we go on holiday. And with the total lack of expectation on the day, we often pull out our best times - double win! 

Since starting a job which involves a reasonable amount of travel, I've had to find reliable ways of minimising/avoiding jet lag so I'm not a zombie all the time. Running is a fantastic way to combat jet lag! Going West; I stay up as late as I can and try to get a run in just before sunset. Then get up and out for a run as soon as it starts getting light in the morning. Getting daylight on your skin and eyes really helps sort out the rhythm of the day and every time I use this method I just don't get jet lag at all! Heading East again it's the same in reverse, get out and get a run in as close to sunrise and sunset as possible to help reset that inner clock. It really works!

The second thing running gives me when I travel is that it's a great way to explore a new location. This latest trip to Seattle, I found a local half marathon on the first Sunday I was there, which was planned to end at a local brewery! A great opportunity to get up and out and seeing the area! I was a bit surprised at the cost of the race entry; yes it was tiered by how close to the date you entered and I was entering the day before, but still. Pretty pricey!


A quick cab ride to the running shop on the day before the race, to enter, pick up race number and the race branded beer glass and t-shirt (adding even more to the overall cost! doh!). And, because I'm weak-willed, I ended up buying a new pair of 3/4 tights (for some reason I seem to have only one pair of training/racing 3/4 tights at the moment and they have a hole in them from when I face-planted in them a while back).


Anyway! The race! It was really low key and small. Just under 400 people ran the half marathon and 350 ran the 5k (which started in a different place, but also ended at the brewery). There were pairs of pacers for all of these race targets: 01:30, 01:40, 01:50, 02:00, 02:15, 02:30, 02:45 and 03:00. Which was really great to see - this race was taking itself pretty seriously in terms of quality even though it was pretty small. The bag drop, portaloos and pacers were the indications at the start and I figured out the big contributor to the price later on.


The course was all on "trails". There is a concept of trails in the USA that's different from what folks in Europe would expect. Given that there's a lot of road in the states, huge distances between things even in towns that mean folks drive almost everywhere, there's little walking facility to get from A to B. So what happens in a lot of places is that there are cycle/walk routes carved through the urban area which are usually made easy for accessibility in some way; tarmacced, gravel, packed sand etc. This is what they call a "trail" and in the case of this race route, that's what the trails were. So really good surface underfoot for running quickly AND flat as you like! The weather was absolutely perfect too. Clear, bright and with a slight chill in the morning. It was all lining up well for a good time for me, so I went into the race with a back-of-the-mind aim to cruise hard, making progress to equal my PB or beat it. 3 weeks back from LEJoG and I was feeling quite good in the legs and engine with some of the runs the week before, so why not?


So I set off smartly and set out to make progress without blowing up too early. The sun was bright, the air crisp and cool and the runners started to pull away, but I let it happen. This always happens with a large proportion of folks not being so great at pacing - Marathon Talk describe this phenomenon and the tide going out. And the thing about the tide going out, is that you know it'll come back in again later. It always does. So knowing this and having experienced it umpteen times, I didn't get too caught up in trying to keep up.


As it was on trails and no need for a whole lot of road safety costs, soon enough it was obvious where a large chunk of the cost of the race went. 5 photographers, with 4 clustered together at a point on the course where the half marathon runners and the 5k runners would pass twice, and the fifth strategically placed on a hill to catch the big efforts. At this point, I'd been following a lady who looked to be hitting a pace I liked the feel of; not too easy, not too spicy. The tide was already coming back in again from the 4th mile or so and it felt great for the first 9 miles - just under 9 mins/mile is a pace that I need to concentrate to keep the effort high enough, but no problem to maintain for a good length of time at the moment.


Each time I gently passed her, she'd step up the pace again having eased off a bit, and pass me again. It kept me honest for those 9 miles. Had she not been there, I'm pretty sure my concentration would have dropped and I'd've slowed down and ended up looking at the trees and the river more. But at about 9 miles, I passed her at a dead turn point on the course and never saw her again. There was a little undulation around that area and I was taking advantage of the very slight downhill gradient to get a little help from gravity and I think that's what did the trick. Mile 10-11 had a slight uphill gradient (as did mile 8), which sucked a bit of energy and from there the pace started to feel tough to maintain. Only 3 miles to the end and I was on track for a PB, so I kept the gas on.


Then in the last couple of miles I made some errors. From before half way onwards, my watch was disagreeing with the mile markers by about 0.1 miles.  My watch would tick over a mile marker, then 0.1 miles later I'd pass the physical one. It's never clear how accurate those markers are in a given race, so the doubts start to creep in about how long you have left to go. As my watch ticked over the 12 miles point, it was another almost 0.25 further on that I passed the 12 mile marker, so I thought I had almost 0.3 miles more to cover than my watch was telling me.


With the discomfort I was now in, I lost heart a little. I thought I was going to come in just under 2 hours by a few seconds, so I eased off a tiny bit and walked a few steps to adjust my t-shirt sleeves which were coming untucked from my bra straps (I'd tucked them in a couple of miles earlier because I was starting to overheat and needed a bit more surface area of skin available to cool down). Having had zero people pass me from after the first half mile, I now had a few folks go by. Not happy about that! Then the route twisted through some trees and up a couple of tiny little steeper slopes and I walked a few steps again there - I'd effectively given up in my head and, of course, it's your brain that gives up before your body. But then I heard the finish line! I turned a corner and it was literally only 100m to the finish! My watch just ticked over 13 miles about 200m earlier and I thought I had 0.3 miles still to go! Argh! So I sprinted over the line, hoping I'd not screwed it up too badly. My watch said 01:56:21! A PB!


No medals at the end because the race medals had been sent to a race in Florida by mistake and they were going to post them onwards to runners afterwards when they arrived in Washington (state). But there was a lovely picnic area with beer and food trucks on a field by the brewery and one free beer per runner (as long as you had ID to prove you were old enough - this is America after all!)


What great atmosphere with friends and family of the runners all getting involved. I sat myself on the grass by the prize giving area, where the pacers ended up congregating afterwards. I got to meet lots of local runners and felt really welcomed - fabulous atmosphere!


Official results later in the day knocked a couple more seconds off - 7th in my Age Group (and first non-US female athlete over the line :oD - OK there were only 2 of us and the other one was a Canadian! There were 2 Canadian men too.). Very pleased with a PB by 57s when I've really not been training for speed and had no expectations or target for this race until the day before it. Very pleased with my pacing (apart from the slight cock-up at the end). Cheers!


Saturday, 2 September 2017

LEJoG 2017: What's next?

 

While I'm still decompressing from LEJoG, I'm starting to think about what's next. I still need to write up the run but that's going to take time.

In the mean time... I've got a trail marathon coming up and I've entered the Rome marathon in April next year with the target of getting a "good for age" qualifying time for London (though I don't intend to use it). There's a plan forming for what comes after. Currently I want to build up to The Spine race. And I wanted to do Ring o' Fire then Cape Wrath as preparation, and that works for Ring o' Fire but 2018 is a Dragon's Back year not a Cape Wrath year. And I'm pretty sure that I'd be fine for Cape Wrath but Dragon's Back would be too much of a leap by then.

It seems like there's more thought needs to go into this to really figure it out. 

Plus it doesn't have to be races. LEJoG, Thames Path and North Downs Way taught me that. But if not a race, there's even more choice! I'm a starving person faced with an almost infinite menu!

What do you think?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

LEJoG 2017 - Getting Back on The Horse!


This time next week I will be on a train up to Edinburgh to change to a train to Galashiels, then a bus to Innerleithen before getting on my feet to John o'Groats.


Yes! I'm finishing the job! The little line on this map will get all the way to the top corner of Scotland!


I'm going to be running straight through for 16 days in a row, but given the days are less demanding than in the first 3 weeks this is very approachable and achievable. There are only 2 days over 30 miles, 6 days under 25 miles of which 2 are 20 miles and 1 is 13.5 miles. The elevation is pretty gentle too. I'll camp 2 nights and the rest is in B&Bs/hotels.

16 days of greenery and scenery in your social media feed, in between the crazy of the world. 16 days of mundane, simple, lower levels Maslow's needs griping to distract you from Brexit and Trump!  It's back on! Get the message out there! Get people following and sponsoring! Let's smash my £5K target funds raising for Public Health Collaboration!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

LEJoG 2017 - looking back and forward


If you don't follow me somewhere else on the Internet, the latest is that I had to stop after 21 and a half days due to excruciating pain in my leg, most likely tibialis anterior tendinitis.


I tried to rest for a couple of days to let things heal, after a local GP had a look at it, but even staying off it for 2 days made zero difference to the amount of pain once I'd really got going for the day's distance.  I tried strapping it and bracing it, but it got so painful that I ended up howling with pain and unimaginable amounts of tears and snot streaming down my face for the well over an hour it took me to get down from Minch Moor to Traqair.  At that point I was in the most pain I've ever been in, including when I broke my collarbone towards the final 15km of the bike leg of Ironman 70.3 Galway in 2012. So I decided to get myself to the nearest A&E as I was worried that it was something broken.  Luckily for me there was a health centre in the village a couple of miles away and they helped me get a taxi to Borders General hospital. I left the hospital with a pair of crutches, a letter to my GP, and instructions to stuff my face with Ibuprofen and paracetamol for a couple of days and then just the Ibuprofen for the rest of the week. I'd been avoiding NSAIDs to that point, due to it being a super bad idea to take those while doing heavy exercise. After 2 days, however, the pain was hugely reduced to the point where I was OK walking a bit without crutches, but my leg/ankle still got creaky and sore after a while. So, I've been really doing nothing now for a few more days (it's 5 days now since I stopped) and there's a little swelling still and some restriction in flexing my ankle in either direction (I've been doing exercises to make sure it doesn't get stiff), but I've been tentatively looking at when I can get back and finish the route. Sure, I could have taken Ibuprofen for the remaining 15.5 days and carried on in the hope that it worked well enough and didn't cause my kidneys to give up, but I wasn't willing to do that to myself. I'm stubborn, but not totally stupid.

Thanks to @benunsworth for making this brilliant map!
I've done 630 miles. There's 405 left to do. I need to avoid (Scottish) school holidays and key work events and negotiate *another* 2 weeks unpaid time off, but it looks like later in October might work and I should be well recovered by then.


Looking back, it's slightly surreal to think of how far up the UK I got - well into Scotland, not far short of Edinburgh. I saw some beautiful and very varied scenery, pretty villages, brilliant cafes, pubs and B&Bs. I problem solved my way through many obstacles: ankle to shoulder height nettles, gorse, thistles, holly and hawthorn; electric fences; barbed wire; herds of cows; very anti-social land owners (hey, yeah, I'll just stick a head-height bank of soil and a ditch across the entire width of the field and an electric fence, a hawthorn hedge and some barbed wire!); broken stiles and bridges; broken/locked/wired shut gates; missing bridges; unrelenting sun for 2x days with no shade; cold; wet feet for 12+ hours; 45-50mph winds while up on the highest point of the moors... etc. I've met some really lovely people and been shown great kindness many times. I've spent days where the only talking I've done is saying hello to cows and rabbits. I've gotten a *lot* of vitamin D! And I've raised over £3,500 for Public Health Collaboration (so far)! My muscles and engine were fine throughout. I slept really well. I used every single piece of kit I'd packed except the two things I'd really only need in the more remote bits of Scotland - a fabric bucket for collecting water, and a water bottle with a filter in it.


It's been an amazing experience; sure, there were tough bits and I got frustrated and upset a good few times mainly due to people being unthinking/inconsiderate (e.g. car drivers who have no idea of the highway code and how to deal with pedestrians). But it took a biomechanical breakdown to put it on pause for now.


I've got pretty bad blues - I wanted to do it in one, and I'm really missing being out in the countryside whatever the weather. Need some time and care before anything hard - physical or mental.

Monday, 8 May 2017

LEJoG 2017: 2 weeks to go, final tests & checks


2 weeks to go and this is the last weekend that any training will make a difference to fitness levels on the day that I start this thing.  Having had 5 days with no training due to a combination of a cold that hit me hard and fast and transatlantic travel for work, I'm a bit nervous of my overall training consistency and trying hard to put my trust in what coach James has to say about it all rather than looking at my Training Peaks historical log and freaking out.  45 miles of back to back run (including a sneaky parkrun) done and it wasn't too bad!  Slightly niggly knee, but that's how things go in the last few days into a big event - all the psychological demons crawl out in "fake symptoms" to freak you out. They're almost always not real.

This weekend I also needed to do final kit tests and checks to make sure everything I already tested still works and any replacements are good.  With 25 miles on Saturday, an overnight camp at Saddlescombe Farm, and 15 miles on Sunday, most problems should shake out with kit.


Since I last did a big back to back weekend with a camp in the middle, I've replaced all of this:-
  • Waterproof top: new Montane Minimus - better waterproofing for the same weight as the old jacket. (CHECK! Works nicely under my pack and is super light.)
  • Shorts: new Icebreaker Comet Skort - slightly lighter and way cuter for the same coverage/comfort. (CHECK! Comfy, doesn't move around too much, looks great!)
  • T-shirt: new Icebreaker Comet Cap Sleeve - slightly lighter and less shoulder coverage. (CHECK! Comfy, doesn't move around too much, looks good, allows better air-flow!)
  • 3/4 tights: new Icebreaker Impulse - less see-through and comfier for the same weight. (CHECK! Comfy, kept me warm overnight!)
  • Water purification: new Travel Tap - built into bottle, no batteries needed, less stuff to carry (slightly lighter in combination).
  • Sleeping mat: Thermarest Neo Air X-Lite (Womens) - longer, more insulating, more comfortable (but heavier). (CHECK! Comfy, kept me very warm overnight, moves about a bit but I'll figure that out.)
I've also now booked somewhere to sleep the couple of nights before I start.  MrTOTKat and I will head South West on Friday and stay around Penzance so we can parkrun together on Saturday - I would really love to see lots of parkrun friends at Penrose on Saturday before I go!